18 April 2023
Re: Your visit to IHRC Bookshop & Gallery last week
I write further to your unannounced visit on Friday 14 April, requesting the Palestinian flags currently displayed in the windows of the shop be taken down. I must say that all of us at IHRC and indeed in the wider community are shocked at this turn of events. As a result, we feel we are owed an apology from you for your comments and actions in this matter.
These flags are sold at the shop, and are campaign resources for those working in support of Palestinian liberation and to end Israeli apartheid. You stated that you knew that there was nothing wrong or illegal with these flags, one of which has the words ‘Free Palestine’ written on it, and one of which has the words, ‘Boycott Israel’. You claimed that you had received a letter from a community member stating that the flags were causing tension, and upon further conversation with a volunteer from the shop you stated that you assumed it was the flag with the words ‘Boycott Israel’ that were the cause of this.
As you are aware, the text on the flags, ‘Boycott Israel’ follows the example of the South African struggle against apartheid. You acknowledged there was nothing wrong with this phrasing. Why then did you choose to come to the shop and demand we take the flag(s) down?
In the past you have made some disparaging remarks about the Al-Quds Day march in support of Palestinian freedom in London which IHRC helps organise. Nevertheless, you have always conceded that there is nothing illegal about the event, and as with the issue of the flags that there is no issue of harassment or incitement involved. Why do you then persist with continually targeting us and in this case making demands for us to give up our basic rights to protest and to support the legitimate demands for justice for the Palestinians? It seems that you feel at ease to ask Muslims and pro-Palestinians to give up their rights for no reason other than someone has contacted you, someone who in your own words, had no reason to feel any offence.
You have been prompted into action on the basis of – by your own admission – misplaced sense of offence from a constituent. How is it that when actual hate crimes, hate speech and targeting of Muslims in and from your constituency have taken place, you have been nowhere to be seen or heard?
As our local MP, surely this would have been imperative for you, particularly when we have sought your assistance before when we (and other Muslim businesses on Preston Road) have been targeted by various Islamophobic hate campaigns, including but not solely:
- The repeated depositing of dog excrement outside our premises (and those of other Muslim businesses) across a period of many months. When you were approached you said you wouldn’t get involved unless ‘evidence’ could be provided;
- The receipt of various malicious communications (including dog excrement, white powder and various threats). In response to this being reported to the police, instead of sending someone to investigate, they sent a Prevent officer;
- Another Muslim business put up Palestinian flags in their windows in previous years and received threatening and malicious communications. When they reported this to the police, rather than investigate the matter, they – like yourself – told the business owner to take the flags down. This is not the sole case of harassment of businesses on Preston Road who have displayed a Palestinian flag and or pro-Palestinian messaging in their windows over the last few years.
These types of double discrimination – where people are firstly victimised by hate attacks and then discriminated against and denigrated by law enforcement and the authorities when they report such matters – should be a top priority for you as MP for this area. We cannot recall you showing any concern about this state of affairs. It appears instead that you have also been a perpetrator of double discrimination.
You may also recall that in the planning stages of the application to extend the building to be used for the IHRC Bookshop & Gallery, neighbours wrote to Brent Council stating they objected to the application because they heard ‘it would be an Islamic bookshop, could raise money for terrorist groups’. Incredibly, Brent Council included this in the list of objections it published (it is available online to this day) thus further entrenching hate speech in public discourse, and vilifying us further as a result. Your silence then and now is noticeable.
Your intervention in this egregious act of hate speech would have been much welcomed at the time. It seems however that not all of your constituents are as equally worthy of your concern and support. Since that time, this type of vilification of IHRC has been rife at the hands of certain locals. If you are genuinely concerned about community relations and tension, we suggest you tackle any and all of the above.
Additionally, you will also be aware that Darren Osborne, who committed the terrorist attack on worshippers leaving a mosque in Finsbury Park in 2017, had originally driven down to London to attack the Al-Quds Day march earlier in the day but had been unable to penetrate the excellent security provided by the police to the event. You have been noticeably silent about the fact that an organisation in your constituency was one of the targets of a terrorist attack. The incitement to hatred that took place by some far right and Zionist figures and organisations in the run up to that attack were actual examples of tension, harassment and incitement that resulted in the radicalisation of Osborne. We believe that it was imperative for you to show interest and concern in this matter. We cannot recall you visiting us for this or any other matter in the 26 years we have been your constituents.
Given your lack of concern with any of the above, you will appreciate why we feel further disappointed with your visit to the shop.
We hope you will take this opportunity to review your recent actions and apologise to us by return. Going forward, should you really be concerned about tension and community relations, we trust you will re-evaluate your silence in the above matters and begin making redress. You should note that since your visit a pro-Israeli activist has come into the shop and demanded the flags be taken down on the basis inter alia, that ‘Palestine doesn’t exist’. We can’t help but wonder if the perpetrator of this act of hate speech was emboldened by your visit and demand.
In the meantime, we will continue to display the Palestinian flags in the shop window. At a time when Israel has banned the flying of the Palestinian flag, and arrested people for doing so, attempts to remove them from visibility in the UK need to be opposed. It is clear that justice for Palestinians, and indeed Muslims and pro-Palestinians, needs defending now more than ever.
Islamic Human Rights Commission
 For our part, we had rather hoped you would take the opportunity to attend Al-Quds Day and disabuse yourself of some of the blatant misrepresentation of the event, and the racist and Islamophobic stereotypes that seem to inform your comments about this.